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Mailbag: Roger Federer's chances at winning another major title

Jon Wertheim answers reader questions about Roger Federer's chances at another major title, ball kid bullying at tournaments, Rafael Nadal's defamation suit and more in his weekly Mailbag. 

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While acknowledging Diego Schwartzman, whose terrific play in Istanbul was totally obscured by Grigor Dimitrov’s hella viral (I’m writing this from Oakland) tantrum:

Grigor Dimitrov loses Istanbul Open final after on-court meltdown as THIRD racket smash hands title to Diego Schwartzman

Roger Federer confidently stated that he thinks he can win more majors. His last major title was almost four years ago at Wimbledon and before that at the Australian Open in 2010. One major (Wimbledon) since he turned 30. He is now almost 35. Champion mindset or whistling in the dark?
Fernando, Valencia

• Interesting question, but you’ve given us a false choice. An ability to compartmentalize? Possessing supreme confidence in your abilities, even in the face of grim math? A belief in your singular greatness, that makes you impervious to conventional rules and laws of the universe? Those are all professional pre-reqs to being an elite athlete.

Mailbag: Has the ATP's next generation fizzled out?

Versions of this question come up in various contexts. Often the fallback goes like this: if X athlete were a realist who looked at probability and adhered to conventional wisdom, (s)he would never have reached those heights to begin with. Expanding this out, aren't delusions of grandeur often the parents of greatness? “A car that drives itself? Ridiculous!”

Specific to Federer, though, of course he can win another major. Despite having missed most of 2016, he’s still ranked No. 3. He—and only he—has beaten the top player multiple times in the last year. Grass is particularly accommodating. And the “ask” is only seven wins in less than two weeks. It’s not a team sport where a championship entails a long odyssey (redundant) and sustained effort.

And besides—as long as we’re being pragmatic—what’s he (and Serena and Tiger and the rest) supposed to tell us, and tell themselves? “Yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve won and time is doing its inevitable dance. At this point, I’m playing out the string. Trying to get lucky, maybe catch a few breaks and reach the quarterfinals?” That would immeasurably more troubling than simply harboring ambitious ambitions.

In the Mailbag a couple of themes have been:

‪1. Men play five sets, women three. Hence men should get paid more.
2. Five set matches are brutal and too demanding in the modern game.

Andy Murray won't stay at Olympic Village at Rio Games

Why not split the difference here and do the following:Keep five-set matches but have them go to four games instead of six, until the quarter finals. The women could possibly choose to have all matches use this format. ‪We would still have the drama of five-set matches but the court time would besignificantly shortened. Ananth Raghaven

• Ding, ding, ding. I’m buying in here. Here’s another bonus: the top players don’t mind of best-of-five. The greater the sample size, the less the chance of unexpected events. (Upsets in this case.) Your version of best-of-five gets the top stars’ buy-in, with the benefit of shorter matches.

It also gets us to the drama of matches sooner. I have a friend who is a hard-core fan, but says he doesn’t start watching sets until the seventh game. By his reckoning, it will likely be 3-3 by then. If not, he can watch the player with the service break try to close out. If it was 5-1 or 6-0 it was likely a blowout not worth watching anyway. Your plan makes the early games in each set more meaningful.

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Regarding cultural sensitivity of American vs. non-American players, this reminds me of when Roger Federer didn't know who Althea Gibson was during her dedication at the U.S. Open.

Because why would a male tennis player, in the 21st century, from a country without a color line (because there isn't really any color), know of a female tennis player, from the pre-Open Era, whose claim to fame is breaking the American color line (while winning a couple Slams, it should be noted)? For a decent comparison, do you think Yao Ming knew who Chuck Cooper, Nat Clifton or Earl Lloyd were?
Emmett Stanton

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• For those who might not recall, Federer took a beating in some precincts several years ago, for failing to know who Althea Gibson was. While this was somewhat surprising even on a tennis level—he knows his history, she was a Wimbledon champion—Emmett’s point is well taken. If you didn’t grow up here, you probably should not be held to “here” standards. (Apply the same logic, by the way, to Sharapova’s ignorance of Sachin Tendulkar, which, I know among many of you, she has yet to live down.)

The genesis of the question, of course, was out discussion of the Russian player Daniil Medvedev who was defaulted for a racially-tinged remark last month while playing Donald Young. Without defending the kid, I do still wonder where we draw lines when determining what rises to a level of “actionable” behavior and what is regrettable ignorance of history, nuance and culture? Carry on.

Just back from a great few days on the Portuguese coast, checking out my first ATP 250 at Estoril. A real gem of a tournament. Easy to access. Solid facilities. Here’s an unpleasant observation though, one that I’ve rarely seen covered: Several of the players were, flat-out, bullying the ball kids.

French Tennis Federation offices raided by investigators

I find this reprehensible. Not only is the operative word here “kids,” not “ball,” but they’re, well, adorable. I’m a regular at Roland Garros and I’d highly encourage any visitors to arrive early if only to see the corps of “ramasseurs” being put through their paces before the start of play—running drills, chants, team-building and even a bit of yoga where they’re all flat on their backs in a circle, feet toward the middle, with their eyes closed and visualizing the day’s work. Adorable. Not to mention very, very, very professional. Granted, this is not always the case—let’s not even talk about the “models” in Madrid—but still…

To see [REDACTED NAMES] and even (surprisingly)[REDACTED], intimidate, glare and even rant at these kids was upsetting. Is there a penalty system in effect here, as there is for racquet abuse? Bullying—and it’s nothing but bullying, straight-up—is at least as offensive as smashing a brand-new Babolat.

Let’s get behind the ball kids! After all, many of us long-standing fans can recall the passion we felt for the game and its pros back when we were young; and ironically, many of today’s pros were ball kids back in the day. Maybe they need a reminder of who they were then, and who they should be today in dealing with these kids who are, in many ways, the future of the game.
Jim, Paris

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• I’m not comfortable “outing” the offending players by name—at least absent evidence, additional accounts and opportunity to defend themselves. But otherwise, I’m totally with Jim. The French Open ball kids are worth the price of admission. Ball kids are a lovely touch, unique to tennis. They serve a vital purpose.

And, yes, a pro bullying a ball kid—and we’ve all seen it before, from both genders—gets a special place in athlete hell. Too all the reasons Jim cites, I would add that the power imbalance could not be more vast. Not only are these kids young and physically unimposing and unpaid and there to serve; but they’re instructed not to speak.

And often the ball kids are standout junior players in the community. (Note how many current pros were ball kids in their youth.) So you’re also sullying the experience for a kid committed to tennis. That’s doubly uncool—a code violation so to speak.

We should say here that some players are the exact opposite, and recognize ball kids and the experience the role entails. Surely anticipating this discussion, only yesterday Djokovic tweeted this:

In general, is questioning the impartiality of the umpire a default-able offense? E.g., player questions partiality of the umpire speaking Spanish to Spanish-speaking player. Opponent complains, says no fair. Defaultable? Just wondering.

• For precisely that reason, both tours have rules against the chair umpire hailing from the same country as the players. (Unless all three are from the same country; that’s permissible.) Which is to say that a Spanish opponent would never have a Spanish chair umpire if the opponent was non-Spanish.

Nadal looks to keep momentum at Madrid Masters

But your point is a good one. Simply questioning the impartiality and ethics of a linesperson is generally not grounds for default. Plus, Michael Llorda was not defaulted for this, which, to me, tops—which is to say, bottoms—the charts for offensive.

I wonder if he will ask AFLD to release any results related to any sample it collected during the 2009 French Open. I assume that wouldn't be encompassed in his request to the ITF, and it would be a notable omission in alleged transparency.

• This question, of course, pertains to Rafael Nadal’s defamation suit, against a doping allegation. My strong suspicion is that this suit will result in an apology and disavowal by the former French minister. But if this actually proceeds, the discovery phase could be very interesting—not, let’s be clear, for reasons having to do with Nadal per se. But because it could shine some light on ITF protocol and  anti-doping procedures in years past.

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The Winston-Salem Open is months away. But do you think any ATP players or tour leaders will follow Michael Jordan's and Adam Silver's lead by making a statement against North Carolina's new anti-anti-discrimination law? Do any individuals consider boycotting?Thanks much. 
Paul Treacy, Chapel Hill, N.C.

You brought it up. Ball’s in your court—tennis metaphor!—players….

What's going on w/attendance at the @ATPWorldTour tourney in Istanbul, I've seen bigger crowds on the back of a Harley.

Stars sell tickets. No Federer = a Bosporus of empty seats.

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Beyond the Baseline: SI's tennis podcast
Sports Illustrated Podcast Network

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Shots, Miscellany

• Last week’s podcast guest was Irina Falconi, fresh from winning her maiden WTA title. She’s encroaching on her career-high ranking. And she’s gives a mean podcast:

Kids, Don't try this tennis trick at home (h/t reader Ken Wells of Quorn, south Australia).  

• Nice to see:

a) Tim Curry back in the game.
b) Ben Rothenberg acquit himself well on Jeopardy, nearly knocking off top seed, Buzzy Cohen.
c) Lucie Safarova win her first title—and, oh yeah, her first singles matches!—of 2016, taking Prague.
d) Ivo Karlovic win his 300th ATP match—and 1,200th tiebreak.
e) Nicolas Almagro
f) Andrew Moss write about the life of the penny-pinching journeyman.

Here’s an interesting piece about Bill Tilden and his complicated legacy.  

Maximum Velocity: Facing the ATP's fastest serves head-on

• Press releasing: “Even retirement will not stop former World No. 1 tennis player Andre Agassi from a rematch of his 1996 Olympic gold medal play versus competitor Spaniard Sergi Bruguera. The match will take place Sunday, July 31 at 730 p.m. as part of the BB&T Atlanta Open at Atlantic Station.

“The 1996 Olympic Games were a defining moment for the city of Atlanta when it came to sports and put Atlanta on an international stage,” said Eddie Gonzalez, Chief Business Officer and Tournament Director for BB&T Atlanta Open. “To bring back two champions like Andre Agassi and Sergi Bruguera to a re-match of their 1996 gold medal match may be the most unique tennis event of 2016!"

• The International Tennis Hall of Fame and FILA have launched a new partnership focused on junior tennis development. The partnership will feature multiple junior invitational tournaments hosted on the historic Hall of Fame property, a new junior ambassador program, and ongoing involvement with the Hall of Fame Tennis Club's junior tennis program.

• Via Twitter, Jeff Linderman has LLS Philip Kohlschreiber and another sultan of swing….